Michael Hankins of Grand Rapids, MI, says he stopped in the Flying J Travel Center in Resaca, GA, at approximately 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 1997, to fuel his truck and have some dinner. After filling his tanks, he says he attempted to move his truck to the parking area, but was unable to find any vacant spots. He chose to park next to the fuel island.
"I circled the parking area twice, then parked between two other trucks that were parked adjacent to the fuel island and went in to eat dinner," he says, noting that he was parked in a no-parking zone. "Shortly after I ordered dinner, the fuel desk began paging the drivers of the trucks parked in the no-parking zone."
Hankins says when he tried to explain that he was waiting for a meal and that he would soon move, he was met with obscenities and threats of being towed. He argued with the woman at the fuel desk, swearing back at her. Eventually, he says, he chose to leave and avoid further conflict.
He tells Land Line as he was walking to his truck, he noticed that he was being followed by four Flying J employees.
"They kept following me, shouting at me to leave," he says. "And one of them began pushing me from behind saying, ‘Get the (expletive) out of here now, truckdriver."
According to Hankins the shoving continued, growing more violent as he moved between trucks. Words were exchanged, and at one point he says two of the employees grabbed his arms.
"The one on my right twisted my right arm clockwise, palm-up and jammed my arm up between my shoulder blades, fracturing my elbow in two places," he says. "It was then that the (younger gentleman) punched me three times in the left eye, knocking my glasses off and breaking them."
Hankins says the scuffle ended with him lying face-first on the ground, with two of the alleged assailants on top of him. His glasses and his pager had been broken. He was held on the ground until the police arrived.
Flying J's story does not match Michael's story.
Kumen Taylor, an attorney from Flying J's legal department, told Land Line he had investigated the incident thoroughly, and that it was Hankins who was belligerent.
On the night of Dec. 7, 1997, Taylor says that several rigs were illegally parked, causing a backup of traffic out onto the interstate. When Hankins was asked to move, Taylor says he was argumentative with Flying J employees.
"They say he was hyper-agitated," Taylor says. "Like he might have been high on some kind of drug. It wasn't your normal, run-of-the-mill agitation. The general manager eventually asked him to move his truck off the facilities."
Taylor says Hankins left the building, but when he noticed the general manager and two other employees following him, he again became upset.
Taylor notes, however, that the three men were not following Hankins. He says they were simply headed to the lot to get the license plate numbers of more trucks that were illegally parked. The Flying J employees claim that Hankins was walking and stopping in front of them, in an attempt to get them to bump into him.
A confrontation ensued, with Hankins allegedly spitting in one of the men's faces. This man later told Taylor that he smelled alcohol on Hankins' breath, and backed down from the situation.
Taylor says Hankins and the employees continued in the direction where the trucks were illegally parked. When they were between trucks, Taylor says Hankins again stopped walking. The truckstop's general manager says he attempted to pass by Hankins, and was shoved backwards.
"He punched the general manager in the face, and knocked him to the ground," Taylor says. "At this point, all the employees were very frightened at what Mr. Hankins might do."
The employees who accompanied the general manager say that Hankins was poised for a fight, so one of them stepped in, wrestling him to the ground. They admit to using some force, saying that they felt it was necessary to subdue him. It was at this time they believe Hankins was injured.
"They agreed to let Mr. Hankins up if he calmed down," Taylor says. "Once he calmed down, he began to complain about his injuries."
Neither Hankins, nor the Flying J employees (most of whom no longer work for Flying J since the incident) were charged by police. Although the incident took place more than a year ago, Hankins says he is still in the process of filing a lawsuit against Flying J. Taylor says it has been quite some time since he's spoken with Hankins' attorney, and says that if a suit is brought, Flying J will countersue for the assault on its employees.